Young children traditionally play manipulating toys on the floor or a table surface. In nurseries and school classrooms, small groups of children gather around a table, actively manipulating toys and educative materials. This way of playing is known that brings benefits to their psychomotor development, but also fosters their social skills.
On the other side, computer educative videogames are also being introduced in nurseries and classrooms, but in a very different way. Computer games are attractive to children, provided by the inclusion of funny animations and sounds in response to their interactions. From a pedagogic perspective, videogames are a very flexible educative tool, as children are conscious of their learning progress, and the pedagogical content can be easily adapted to each children necessity. However, teachers are still little proactive of using videogames in their classrooms, especially with very young children, as computers lack of the benefits of traditional playing: physical manipulation and collocated learning.
In the GIGA AffectiveLab, we believe that both styles of playing can be combined, getting benefits from both physical and digital ways of playing. For that purpose, we have created NIKVision, a horizontal computer augmented surface (tabletop), especially designed for very young children. NIKVision hardware and software is able to track multiple manipulations of objects on its surface, providing with digital audio and visual feedback both in the table surface and in a frontal computer screen.
We have developed several ludic and educative games for NIKVision, which are always looking for fostering collocated learning and collaborative behaviors in children. These games have been tested in educative environments: nurseries, schools and especial education classrooms, in which our system has shown equally useful and attractive for children and teachers.
NIKVision has also had notable diffusion in public and academic events and publications, so its design and games are being replicated by other research groups around the world. This has recently emerged a new problem in which we are currently working on: developing hybrid (physical and digital) videogames is not an easy task, involving very technical skills in coding, visual computing, and electronics. To lower the threshold of creating games for NIKVision, we have created the ToyVision toolkit: a set of software tools that easies the prototyping of hybrid videogames by providing designers and developers of computer games with guidance to adapt conventional toys to the NIKVision system, and with high abstract data straight related with children manipulations with the toys.
Both systems, NIKVision and ToyVision, are pioneering in new concepts for innovative and natural ways to bring computer interaction to young children and educative environments.
NIKVision at the GIGA Affective Lab: http://giga.cps.unizar.es/affectivelab/index1.html
ToyVision toolkit: http://www.toyvision.org/
Authors: Sandra Baldassarri and Pedro Latorre